🎙️Show Notes for Episode 012 - Client BoundariesJun 02, 2021
Establishing and enforcing client boundaries is critical for IC, but especially if you work from home, where the lines between work and home life are easily blurred. Oftentimes we avoid doing this because we fear upsetting, or even losing, the client. This sets a precedent that can lead to bigger problems down the road.
Unless you set effective boundaries, rather than you controlling your business, your business will control you, which can quickly lead to overwhelm and burnout. Setting boundaries with your clients should never be considered a bad thing. Creating healthy boundaries allows you to take charge of your day, your business, and your life.
In this episode, I share three steps that you can use to establish client boundaries and three strategies to avoid possible pitfalls.
[05:10] Example of a client boundary problem and solution
[13:56] Step #2
[15:49] Step #3
[17:52] Pitfall #2
[18:58] Pitfall #3
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**note: This is an automated transcript, so please ignore spelling errors and grammar mistakes*
Welcome to the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business Podcast. I'm Melisa Liberman, a fellow IC and business coach. On this podcast, I teach you to become a consistently booked independent consultant without becoming a pushy salesperson or working 24/7. If I can do it, you can too. Listen on To find out how. Today we're on episode number 12. A dozen. Isn't that exciting. And I want to talk today about focusing on client boundaries. This is something that comes up so often how do I set client boundaries? How do I set boundaries with my clients? How do I get them to do what I want them to do? How do I get them to stop calling me all day and all night? Whatever it looks like for you in terms of client boundaries, that's what we're going to focus on today. And I'm going to share with you what boundaries are and what they're not. It's a very often misused concept and gives you a process that you can use to start establishing boundaries. So with that, I have a question for you. What is the craziest thing you've ever done for a client? For me, the one that stands out the most is when I was doing management consulting, and I was working for a client part-time, and they knew that, and they would still call me all the time. And everything was kind of an emergency at the last minute and made it really challenging because I think my kids at that point were like, I don't know, six and under or something like that. And so anyway, I remember this time when I was driving back from the swimming pool, it was a summer had all three kids in the car. You know, of course, they're like screaming and fighting with each other. And the client called and I decided I should answer it, I have no idea why. And tells me that it's kind of an emergency last-minute meeting that I need to be on. And I'm literally driving and the kids are screaming, there's no way I can go on to this meeting. And so instead of saying no, that would be a good plan. I said, okay, and I pulled over to the side of the road. Luckily, it wasn't a busy road, but like on the side of the street. And I got my laptop out, which I always took with me in case of this sort of situation. And I got out of my car, because it was too loud in there. And I put the laptop on the hood of the car and had the meeting, the kids are probably killing each other and in the car. But I was like, well, they're they can't hear this noise. And it's probably better to hear street noise than it is the screaming. And I went on this meeting for like half an hour. And I look back at that thinking this is crazy. There's one thing to be responsive to our clients. And there's another of just completely having no self boundary whatsoever, which was the point there, right? That was my rock bottom, I would love to hear what your rock bottom is, you can send me a message on LinkedIn if you want to share it. It's crazy the stuff that we do for our clients. And we do it for you know, well-intended purposes, we want to be responsive, we want to be, you know, helpful. We want them to see that they can rely on us. But we can have all of that and the boundaries. And for sure, in this case, I needed boundaries. But they may not be the boundaries you're thinking they are or the type of boundaries you're thinking you need. So I'll tell you that here in a minute. But first, I just want to really level set on what is a boundary. A boundary is a rule or a guideline, or a protocol that we set for ourselves. It's not threatening someone or that sounds a little harsh, but telling someone how they should behave is not a boundary. So in the example I just gave you a solution to the problem isn't me telling the client not to call me the solution to the problem is that I don't answer the call when I'm in that scenario. Or I answer and say, You know what, when they asked me to go on a meeting, I say no.
I'm part-time. And right now I'm not working. I'm really sorry, I'm not able to do that right now. I don't even have to apologize, right? The boundary is a guideline we set for ourselves. A lot of times we misunderstand what a boundary is that we somehow tell other people how to behave around us. Simply put the boundary is setting your own protocols, your own rules, your own standards for the way that you're going to work and the way you're going to engage with others and the way you're not, and then following through on them following through on your own boundaries. And there are some nuances to this. It doesn't mean that we don't have to communicate that it's not optimal, though. communicate some of these boundaries to other people. But from the place of knowing this is how we operate versus this is how I want you to treat me. All right. So let's dive into another example here, I want to show you how this boundary process works a little bit. And then I'll walk you through a framework that you can use to implement it for yourself. So I'm going to give you a scenario here of a client, I'm not going to show it or share any client details.
That's not what I do. So I'll give you a generic generalized version of this story. But the client came to me, I was working for someone who interrupted him all day long, all day long, either texting or calling or interrupting meetings, popping into his office, all the things right. And my client tried every method he could think of to get the CEO under control, to have him stop interrupting. He tried setting up daily catch-ups, you know, at a specific time with the CEO, he tried being more proactive with communication to preempt kind of on the fly questions. He tried even getting the CEO to agree on how they would communicate and how they would work together. And when he would or wouldn't answer his phone, or when he would or wouldn't text back. He tried all of these methods. Some of them were trying to get the CEO to change. And some of them were trying to get the CTO CEO to understand how he could best operate, how my client could best operate setting expectations, right. And the CEO would agree to some of these tactics, like the meetings, or not texting, you know what, at 4 am on Sunday, or whatever it is. But the CEO never stuck to the rules, he would agree in theory, but then he would forget or choose not to follow these rules and text my client at 4 am on Sunday morning, or whatever it is, I'm just making up scenarios here. But it was a lot. So the client got so angry and frustrated, and he felt very disrespected. And he wanted to read the CEO, the riot act like this is unacceptable, I will not be treated this way. This is not sustainable. I need you to respect my boundaries, was his thinking. But no matter how many times he takes that approach, the CEO at the heart of it is not going to change, at least not meaningfully, right? It's not about this CEO, it's about other humans in general, we can't change each other. We've all tried probably, especially if you're married, but it doesn't work. You can make requests, right? And sometimes those will work. But literally changing most of the Ceo's behavior is not going to work. And it really results in feeling that frustration, and that anger, and that feeling of disrespect. And so what did the client do? Once he realized I'm not going to really meaningfully change the CEO, I might get a few wins here and there. But I'm really not going to meaningfully change the way the CEO wants to operate. That's his thing. His lane, right? So what the client did is figured out his own boundaries, he figured out, I'll teach you this framework here in a minute, he figured out exactly how he wanted to operate. What was he going to do, and not do during the course of his day, during the course of his week, during his weekends? A few examples would be I'm not going to answer the phone anymore. When I'm in the middle of a meeting, I'm not going to wait around for more than five minutes, if the CEO doesn't come to the meeting, we scheduled I'm not going to respond to texts all day, all night on the weekends. I'm going to respond to texts in between meetings, I'm going to respond to texts in the evening up until 8 pm. I'm going to acknowledge texts on the weekend, but not really dive into any of the work. Let the CEO know that that's top of my list on Monday, or whatever it is. And honestly, this set of protocols of how my client wanted to operate. And it's because he wanted to operate in a way that made him most effective, right? He's not doing this just for the sake of it or for the reason of you know, I want to feel more respected. I'm going to put these boundaries in place. No, he put together his own protocol, and his own boundaries in order to maximize his impact on the organization. And so with those boundaries, his self boundaries, right, these are self boundaries, not boundaries for another person. It made him so incredibly uncomfortable and nervous. It's a shift from the way he had been working for so long. And it made him question like what if the CEO doesn't see me as a go-to person anymore? If I'm not responsive, then he's gonna go pick a new person whose go-to person is right at hand person, right. And this is what CEOs expect. I should be at their beck and call, like all of these things came up for my client after he started thinking about these self boundaries, about how he would be marginalized, or how he would no longer be as valuable to the CEO, or how he might even be pushed aside or fired. But he was willing to give it a try. There were a few of these kinds of approaches within the boundaries that he said that he communicated to the CEO, just to set expectations. I'm not going to be working all weekend anymore. If you text me, I'm going to put that in my queue to tackle first thing Monday morning. I don't think it was that straightforward. But you know what I mean, right? Whatever the boundary is, there were some that he did communicate to the CEO to level set on expectations, because some of these approaches were very different than what had been happening up until now. Some of them he just kept to himself, she's not going to answer in the middle of a meeting anymore. We've got 10 people in the room, not going to answer the phone, whatever it looks like, right, that's what he put in place, he was willing to give it a try. And the craziest thing happened. And I've heard this from other clients as well, so commonly, so it's not just this one, unicorn, the craziest thing happened, which is the CEO, instead of getting angry, and marginalizing my client, he was so much more respectful. He respected my clients so much more, it's probably a better way to say it, he started coming to meetings on time, he started not texting quite as much off hours, he started shifting the way that he looked at my client, you know, I think the CEO went from looking at this person as Yes, he is on my beck and call, just ask him whenever I want, whatever I want. And he'll respond by really looking at my client in a much more elevated way. And my client got his life back. And that professional relationship improved as well, which was the exact opposite outcome that my client was expecting. And I share this example with you to show you that for most of us, we don't want to put these boundaries in place with our clients, because we feel like they're going to not need us that they're going to marginalize us that they're going to let us go from our contract, whatever it is. But the exact opposite can happen when you're showing up in an elevated way and treating people how to treat you, not by trying to get them to change. As I said, this is one example. But I could tell you, there's probably 50 Other examples of very, very similar stories, where my clients feel like they're, you know, really, really being taken advantage of in ways that they're really stuck in other ways at the whim of the client. When we put this boundary process in place, they realize how much more the client, their client respects them. It's not about changing the other person. Okay, if you could change the other person, that would be amazing. We should bottle that up and sell it to anyone who's married, especially right. That would be great. Okay. So let's dive in now that you've heard what a boundary is, and what a boundary isn't. And an example, let's think about it for you. And how do you apply this? How do you set your own boundaries? So the first thing is knowing what is a boundary that it's setting up a protocol, a way of doing business for you? It's not about how you want other people to behave, changing them. Okay. So that's the first step just really knowing that we're going in here setting boundaries for you. The second step here is to map out your protocol boundary, your boundary protocol, and what is going to be your working standard? How are you going to respond to communications from your clients? What is your turnaround time? What if something's in an emergency? Like, think through all the scenarios that happen to you every single day, every single week, every single month? And figure out what is your standard? And why are you setting that? And then look through that standard? Once you've got it to a place of you like all the reasons why you've said it, then figure out what requires expectation setting or potentially agreement. If there's something contractual involved with this, like an SLA or something like that. Some of it can be left unsaid. So what requires agreement, what requires expectation setting and what just can be left unsaid and then execute that communication plan with your client. And then figure out for yourself how you're going to enforce this When are you going to make an exception? This isn't 100% of the time. I don't think that's realistic, you probably don't either. But what are the reasons why you would make an exception to your protocol and set that forward in advance so that you have guardrails established of how you're going to operate, versus trying to figure it out on the fly, because on the flyer, most likely going to always defer to doing whatever the client has asked you to do, without realizing that you're breaking your own boundary because you haven't said it? And then feeling angry and frustrated and resentful, and disrespected. So that's the second step. The first step was knowing that we're setting a boundary for you, not for the client. Number two, mapping out that protocol, what's your standard? What's your communication plan around that standard, and how are you going to enforce it. And then after you've got that in place, it's going to require managing your thinking, you're going to want to go back to the way you've used to be, you've been used to doing this. But this is a change. So you're going to have to purposefully recommit to what that protocol is until it becomes second nature to you. So know that once you put the protocol in place, it doesn't mean that it's just naturally going to happen. From there on out, there are going to be so many times where you're tempted to go back to the old way of doing business, because you feel nervous, or you feel obligated to do something the client is asking you to do. And really looking at this in a different way, requires doing that purposefully. Okay, so now that you've got an example and a framework to set these boundaries for yourself, I want to warn you of three possible pitfalls, before we sign off for today, so that when you put this in place, you aren't falling back into that old behavior and not being able to leverage this tool in a really successful way. So the three pitfalls are number one, that you aren't committed to your standard. So you set it, but then you're not really committed. And you just keep reverting back to your old way of doing business and justifying that, constantly making exceptions to what it is that you are committed to yourself to do. So know that that is going to happen because we're trying to implement some change here some transformation for you here. And your brain is going to want to go back to the old way, and justify doing it by thinking that the client requires it. Or that's just the way things are, maybe I'll do it better on the next client, whatever it is, and you don't have to wait until the next client to start implementing your standard. But you do have to fully commit to it. So that's the first pitfall if you create it, but you don't commit to it, then it's not going to work. The second is thinking that this is out of your control. And I will tell you every time no matter what the topic is, but today with respect to these boundaries, whenever you think something's out of your control, you're going to find all the evidence and examples of where it's out of your control and feel like your hands are tied. Don't fall into that pitfall. So in order to not fall into that pitfall really focus on where you do have control, what you can adjust what methods you can try, there may be some consequences, right? Some of them could be positive, like the example I shared with you, and some of them might be a frustrated or annoyed, or upset client while you're working this out. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't go forward and test out these scenarios to figure out what works best for you. And that client in order to maintain the boundaries that you had created. So know that you're going to have to figure out places that you can control and not continue looking for the places you can't control. And then the third and final pitfall is just relying on your default, right? You probably say yes, just out of default. I know I did and still do sometimes, right? Again, this is going to require that adjustment until it becomes automatic that yes isn't always the answer right away. So the key to overcoming this pitfall is just don't say yes, automatically without considering other options. When they're asking you to do something that's outside of your boundaries. And this doesn't have to be overnight. I'm not saying to you, Well, you better set your boundaries and then adhere to them. 100% that's just not realistic. But right now you may have some loose boundaries in your head. And if you're like me and that car example I gave you, I was probably adhering to those mentally defined boundaries not even written down 10% of the time. Get yourself to the place where it's 90% of the time that you're enforcing the boundaries and 10% You're not versus 10%, you are in 90%, you're not. So this is an evolution, this isn't a quick fix, right? This isn't an overnight process. But get yourself to the place where you've put this boundary in place. You know what your boundaries are for yourself. You've implemented that communication plan. We talked about what you need agreement on what you need, just to set expectations on and what you're just going to implement without needing to tell anyone, you know, definitely not asking for permission. And then implement this for yourself avoiding those three pitfalls I just shared with you. All right. Hopefully, this is a new way for you to look at client boundaries. The great news is you don't have to get your client to really change at all. It's mostly about you changing the way that you're engaging, which is great because you do have control over that. All right. Great to talk with you this week. And I'll see you again next week.
Thanks for joining me this week on the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast. If you like today's episode, I have three quick next steps for you. First, click Subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to make sure you don't miss future episodes. Next, leave me a review in your podcast app so other independent consultants can find it beneficial and finally put the ideas from today's episode into action. Head over to Melisaliberman.com for the show notes and more resources to help you grow your consulting practice from your first few projects into a full-fledged business. See you next week.